erik lundegaard

Wednesday March 02, 2022

Just for Laughs: Not Seeing John Mulaney in Concert

This is how I first heard about it, via email on Dec. 7, a date which will live in somethingorother.

How did the emailer know I was a John Mulaney fan? I assume the usual online trail we all leave. I've watched his concerts on Netflix, went down the YouTube rabbit hole to find appearances on the various talk shows, and SNL, and at the Independent Spirit Awards, and I've tweeted and blogged about him. It's out there.

But initially I was like: So what? No Seattle. Appreciate the news but let me know when it hits closer to home.

Then I saw this at the end:

Vancouver! Hey, we have family there! Hey, we could go up for a few days, see them, see John, enjoy the Canada craziness! (JFL, by the way, stands for Just for Laughs, a two-week long comedy festival. It's like SIFF but funny.)

I was particularly curious what his standup might be like now. For most of his career, Mulaney's been the smart, teetotaling, former blackout-drunk and “Mad Men”-looking standup with the Jewish wife and no interest in having kids. His persona was “boring ol' me, vaguely gay ol' me.” I think he once referred to himself as a slice of white bread. Then, beginning in late 2020, he:

  • went into rehab
  • divorced his wife
  • took up with hottie Oliva Munn
  • had a baby with her

Now he's tabloid fodder. In the New York Post headline hierarchy he once riffed on (angel, hero, tot, bozo, perv), he's the bozo. “A bozo is any man who cheats on his wife,” he said back then. That's him. Which, no judgment, I'm just curious how, with such massive changes in his life, how his standup might change. I mean, I'd seen him on Seth Meyers' show last September and it was kind of shocking how unfunny he was. Could he bounce back? I'd love to find out. Hell, since these “Just for Laughs” gigs predated his official “From Scratch” tour, we'd actually see it first. 

Should we do it? I asked my wife.

Yes! she said. She likes Mulaney, too. Plus she's never said no to travel.

What about this new variant that I'm hearing about? 

Oh, I'm sure it'll be gone by then, she said. Plus we can't not make plans forever. 

So we jumped. And despite Omicron not going away, we kept pushing forward. We got a hotel just three blocks from the Queen Elizabeth Theater. We figured out all the border-crossing hoops we had to jump through. There was an app, ArriveCAN, where you had to fill out all your info, upload a photo of your passport, and upload a photo of your vax card. And did Canada still want proof of a negative PCR test within 72 hours of arrival? Yes, they did. Were PCR test hard to get? Not really. But to get a free gov't test, you had to either have symptoms or be exposed to someone who had it. But you could pay for one: a mere $175-$300 a pop. Those were our options: shell out $400 or lie. We lied.

The trip up was lovely, Vancouver was more beautiful than I remembered, it was great seeing family. The concert was scheduled for 9:30 on a Tuesday night, and we kind dithered away the time beforehand. Well, the morning and afternoon were good: walk to Stanley Park, visit to the Vancouver Art Museum. But then I tried to take a nap because 9:30 seemed late to me (I'm 59), but the nap didn't take. Then we got nearby sushi but it wasn't particularly good. Then we watched some episodes of “Community” on my laptop but it was odd, fifth-season stuff. Basically we were just biding our time before the show because I didn't want to miss the show. Then we left our room at 9 PM, even though Patricia thought that was way too early for three blocks away, because I didn't want to miss the show.

Three blocks away, at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, we disagreed about which entrance to go to. Patricia went to the side. “There's some light here,” she said. Then she paused. It wasn't much light. In fact, the whole place seemed rather dark. In fact...

A slight panic crept in. Had we missed the show? Did I misread the time? Or the date?

About a dozen people were milling about on the Hamilton Street side, most dressed for a show, so we went toward them. They pointed to these signs taped to the inside of the darkened front door.

    

My wife and I looked at each other and just started laughing. All that hoop-jumping. All that waiting around. All that fear of missing out.  

Then I began to wonder why it was cancelled. Was he relapsing? I was concerned. We talked to the other disappointed fans out front. It turned out, no, the entire Just for Laughs festival had been cancelled. Because of Omicron. One woman, thumbing through her smartphone, said the emails had wound up in her Spam folder. They'd sent one on Feb. 7, she said, and another on Jan. 21.

“January 21st???” I said. “They've known for weeks?”

Initially I was amused. Then confused. Then I began to get angry. And since this is the modern world, I didn't quite know who to be angry at. Just for Laughs? Mulaney? Me? 

The week before I'd actually had an inkling something was off. I don't remember why, but I'd done a double-check on the concert and was somehow assuaged. Maybe because Mulaney's Twitter feed said nothing about a cancellation and neither did his website, and a Google search, and a Google News search, brought up nothing. It brought up ticket sales. 

But apparently I hadn't dug deep enough. So some part of me was angry at me. Some of the anger, too, I think, was simply to cover up embarassment. I was a 59-year-old crossing borders in the middle of a pandemic to see some punk thirtysomething comic in concert? What had I become? What had my life become? I really was thinking this. It's a few weeks later and I'm cutting myself some slack. I was a 59-year-old crossing borders in the middle of a pandemic to see someone who had given me hours and hours of joy. I just wanted another hour.

Besides, by now I know whose fault it was: the Just for Laughs festival.

Back at the hotel I doublechecked my Gmail account. I checked the inbox, the deleted folder and the spam folder. Nothing, nothing and nothing. Deleted emails are kept for 30 days, so it went back before Jan. 21. But there was nothing from Just for Laughs or about John Mulaney or about cancellation. They'd never let me know.

So when I got home I shot off an email to Just For Laughs explaining all this. I got this a day later:

Thanks for your message and apologies for the confusion! We had send out updates about this postponement by email on January 21st, February 7th and 11th, but we've been ending up in junk mail, and we had also posted on social media and our website.

Even though I said the notice didn't wind up in my spam folder, they said check your spam folder. They also said they were working to reschedule him but if I wanted a refund I could have a refund. I went for the refund. And I reiterated the fact that they should recheck their system that sends out these emails since I never got one. They said they would. Or one guy said they would. One guy who's answering emails and probably has no say-so at any level of the organization.

Last week, I got to see some of the standup I might've seen in Vancouver when John Mulaney hosted SNL. He looks a little more worn, a little heavier, with less of an amused glint in the eyes, but it was much better than his Seth Meyers' appearance. He's worked his fall from grace into comedy. Not an easy thing to do. I particularly like the text exchange with the drug dealer. Also his son's reaction to the light.

Anyway we just got tickets to Chris Rock in October. Fingers crossed.

Posted at 08:37 AM on Wednesday March 02, 2022 in category Culture  
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